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Tasered man: Shocked and awed 

Take one look at 32-year-old Mario Roberts and the last thing you'd think is criminal.

Roberts is an investment banker, church deacon and youth basketball coach who, until last month, had never been arrested. The six-foot, slim man has a low hair cut and a clear baby face; sometimes he allows his beard to grow.

But on Oct. 18, he became the latest Charlotte resident to be jolted by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.

Roberts said the incident happened when he went to the Penguin Restaurant in east Charlotte to get his friend, Karmeta Mosley.

Mosley, who was also arrested, was involved in a verbal altercation with a waitress at the restaurant because of what she said was poor service. (A Penguin manager did not return a phone call from CL seeking comment.)

A manager at the Penguin called 911. According to the tapes released by police, the man said, "We have a customer here who won't leave from behind the bar area."

The call ended abruptly, police said, as Mosley pulled the phone off the wall. A second 911 call was made asking for police. Arguing could be heard in the background. At no point was Roberts mentioned as the customer causing the problems. The caller identified the customer as a black woman.

Roberts said he and Kirsten Hemmy, who was also in at the restaurant that day, tried to remove Mosley from the restaurant. Roberts says he grabbed his friend and the trio headed out the door. As soon as they got outside, police were waiting outside. Hemmy said she was grabbed by a man in a sweatshirt, telling her to calm down as a police officer grabbed Roberts by the shoulder. Roberts said he was told to get on the ground. "I held my hands up and I asked the officer, 'Why? What did I do?'"

Roberts then says with his hands up he took a step back from the officer. At that time he was restrained by two other officers. Then, while handcuffed, he was Tasered.

He was taken to jail and charged with misdemeanor resisting public officer. His bond was set at $2,500.

Capt. Chuck Adkins of the Internal Affairs Bureau told CL in an e-mail that a Chain of Command review board was scheduled to review the use of force and determine if officers followed department policies. "Although a use of force investigation was begun by a supervisor in the field, when a complaint was filed to the office of Internal Affairs, our unit took over the investigation," he wrote. "Due to the nature of the complaint, the person making the allegation will receive written notification of the disposition."

Adkins said these investigations usually take 45 days to be completed.

Taser usage in Charlotte has been highlighted this year following the March death of 17-year-old Darryl Turner, who died after an officer Tasered him at a north Charlotte grocery store. Four months later, CMPD announced that Officer Jerry Dawson would be suspended for five days and given additional Taser training after an internal investigation determined the officer didn't follow protocol. Police said that Turner was Tasered for 37 seconds until he fell to the ground and, when Turner did not then put his hands behind his back, Dawson discharged his Taser for five seconds.

When the department announced Dawson's suspension, Chief Rodney Monroe said CMPD was reviewing its policies and procedures concerning the Taser. CMPD's policy on its Web site states the following: "The Conducted Energy Weapon may be used when other less lethal options have been ineffective, or when it reasonably appears that such options will be ineffective in subduing the subject. Conducted Energy Weapons will only be used in situations where the subject poses an immediate or imminent threat to the safety of himself/herself, a citizen, or an officer."

Officer Robert Fey, a CMPD spokesman, said the Taser policy has not been changed.

To Roberts, the policy still needs work. He said the day he was Tasered, there's no way police could've felt threatened. He wasn't wearing baggy clothes that could conceal a weapon and he had his hands in the air. Roberts said there was a large crowd of people outside the popular restaurant that Saturday night.

Now the church deacon is left to defend himself in court, when he feels that his only crime was being black. "I don't see how the officer thought I was a threat," Roberts said.

Human rights advocates have urged police departments to review Taser-use policies. "Our overriding concern is that it's perceived as nonlethal -- rather than being used as a weapon of last result, they're being used as a weapon of first result," Jared Feuer, Amnesty International USA's southern regional director told CL in July.

Amnesty estimates that more than 300 people have died after being stunned by a Taser. Only 22 of those have been armed, and -- based on media and police reports -- none were armed with a firearm, Feuer said.

Last week, Feuer said that no independent medical study has been performed that determined why some people have died after being struck with Tasers. "We just don't have that information, and so police departments are developing their own policies without having all the facts," he said.

The outcome of the case against Roberts is still pending. He said that his mug shot appeared in "The Slammer," a newspaper that prints the photographs and charges of people who have been arrested.

He said the hardest part of his arrest has been answering questions from kids whom he coaches. "They've asked me, 'Was that you we saw in the Slammer for getting arrested?' This is something that I've always tried to avoid."

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